Monthly Archives: July 2011

Backyard Body Count (plus Contest Reminder)

In my yard there are two beds of raspberry canes. One is on the south side of the house, resplendent with the full sun and rainwater shed from the garage roof. These raspberries are aggressively challenging the neighboring  rose shrub for domination. The other bed is on the north side of the yard and is shaded by a maple tree and set off from the rest of the lawn by a hedge. These canes don’t spread as much but have big beautiful berries, maybe because they aren’t roasting for eight hours every sunny day. The big southern bed is very productive but I love the northern bed’s seclusion. The main problem with it is that the mosquitoes also love it. When I go out there, dozens descend on me in seconds with a furious appetite. I thought I would need an aide to smack the blood-suckers away while I picked, but discovered that if I stopped and stood still for a second, the most unwary of the bunch would roar in and I could kill handfuls with some rapid-fire acrobatic swatting. Then, my body smeared with the crushed entrails of the vanquished as a warning to the others, I pick berries while contending sporadically with the more cautious and strategic insects. I suppose in a way I am contributing to the evolution of a smarter, more successful mosquito, but I can’t worry about that now; I have berries to harvest. I pick as quickly as I can, swatting periodically, killing bugs with nearly every smack. The texture of their tiny but fleshy bodies rolling beneath my fingers is disgusting. My skin bears the red prints of my hands from my increasingly strenuous slaps. The longer I am out here the more agitated I get. The dragonflies love me, though. They zip through the air around me, lighting on the leaves, gorging on mosquitoes to their heart’s content. I am like chum, luring in their catch. Finally, enough is enough and I make a run for the full sunshine, where skeeters fear to tread. Like vampires, which they kind of are.

I am trying this recipe:

Don’t forget to check out the previous post “When the Meteor Hits, Plus a Chance to Win!” and leave a comment there to win a handcrafted very cool and earth-friendly recycled plastic market bag.

When the Meteor Hits, Plus a Chance to Win!

I was reflecting on my children’s habit of holding onto the extraneous flotsam and jetsam of life. Younger son collects empty beverage containers and broken writing utensils. Older son hangs onto stones and packaging from video games and action figures. It all seemed irrational until I considered my own habit of holding onto bread ties, magnetic backing from refrigerator memo pads and plastic bags. When I am weighing whether to throw those things out, I always find myself asking, “What if the (meteor hits, civilization collapses, electromagnetic pulse knocks out all our technology,) and I am forced to make our clothing out of plastic bags and twist ties? And I don’t have enough?” Suddenly my kids’ collections don’t seem odd at all, just a little unrealistic. After all, what can you make out of cardboard rectangles with Halo II figures depicted on them and fragments of #2 pencils?

In my defense, I actually DO make something out of my plastic bags. I found the pattern for a recycled plastic tote bag in the 2006 Crochet Pattern-a-Day calendar (with Annie Modesitt & Friends.) Essentially, it is pattern to make a plastic bag out of plastic bags. I was overcome with admiration for the idea. Environmental, frugal, and a little bit funny: it was my kind of pattern. Once made, the bag also turned out to be strong and eye-catching. I have made four and they net me a lot of attention at the grocery store, with the conversation usually ending with the comment, “You should sell these.” Well, I don’t and here’s why; I don’t have time to make a lot of them. You must start with prepping the bags before you can even think about the construction. It takes a lot of bags–at least forty, which should be nearly pristine before you start. People often ask me if I get fresh unused bags from the store and I don’t. If a bag makes it through loading and unloading clean and in decent shape, it gets put aside for folding and storage until I have enough material and time to get rolling. Uninterrupted, it would probably take me 12-14 hours to make a single bag from scratch, but I’m not sure about that because it takes me weeks. I am rarely uninterrupted. I am in process right now on one which I project will be done in a few days and I would like to offer it up to you, my dear friends and readers. If you would like a chance to win one of my recycled market bags, leave a comment on this post telling me one thing (or more) that you hoard past all sense. The winner will be chosen randomly on Monday, August 1st at 4:00 central time. If you can bear the competition, tell your friends to post a comment to enter, too! I will post the instructions for the general logistics of making the bag in the next week or so, so if you are crafty and interested you can make your own. Hoarded bags turned into something useful–I like to think of it as not only making a bag out of bags, but also making smart out of crazy.



Worry Bubble

This was the kind of day that felt like I got nothing done. I cooked a couple of meals, did some dishes, dragged my boys out to help a friend move some big furniture, got groceries, fixed a neighbor boy’s bike, did a little reading, worked out, contacted a source for an article, exchanged some emails, bugged one boy to do some reading and bugged both boys to do some dishes (not because I can’t but because they should,) baked a cake with homemade sour cream frosting, and watched E.T.  (the Extraterrestrial, not Entertainment Tonight.) How is that nothing? I’m self-conscious about the issue of no time card, no paycheck–those details add a sense of consequence to actions. My days as strictly a freelancer are numbered. Eventually my qualifications will meet a situation and make a love connection and this era of footloose fancy free-dom will be over. Have I wasted my at-home opportunity worrying about not doing enough?

Do you see how impossible I am to live with? I worry I’ve done nothing, then I worry that I’ve worried too much about it. Next, I’ll be worrying that I’ve done too much trying to offset worries that others think I’ve done too little. Enough! All I have to do is look around at my mom, my sister, and way too many of my friends to realize that none of this matters right now. Life is a gift and needs to be appreciated, not worried away. I can’t control a lot in life, but I can decide to pop my worry bubble whenever I see it building. Instead of fussing about how much gets done or what value it has, I’ll just do, be, connect, embrace, reject and be grateful. If I can do that, I’ll never have a “nothing done” day again.

Maelstrom Drives

Fueled by caffeine and tunes (The Offspring’s Conspiracy of One album) I transform behind the wheel. My inner bad-ass is revealed. Maelstrom, my new alter-ego, is dark of spirit and quick to action; woe betide the wrongdoers caught in our path. Light as a whispered curse we dart down the highway as shadows and clouds are pulled toward us. Vultures circle. Bullies and thieves, hoodlums and malefactors are our prey. You, in the silver Ford Expedition, we have our eye on you. Make no mistake, you will suffer wretchedly should you swerve like that again. Watch it. The miles fly.

Eventually the album ends, my destination nears and I  must reluctantly resume my mild-mannered suburban mom identity. I switch tunes (Blue Man Group, The Complex album, which is still dark and energetic but less…punitive.) I tell myself to settle down as I try to flush the caffeine through my system with water and beef jerky. Four hours is too long on the Midwest highways for me, so I am lucky Maelstrom was around to take a turn at the wheel. Now she sleeps, but miscreants beware, for she shall return.


I have been enjoying a South Dakota Writer’s Retreat in Brookings. Enjoying, as in working very hard to find good images and words and ideas, while also eating the best ice cream in the world and Nick’s hamburgers. South Dakota Writer’s Retreat, as in Kelly and I hashing out blog issues, reviewing each other’s manuscripts-in-process, and holding teeny-tiny ad hoc support groups around what it is we are trying to accomplish and how we might  do that. A little bit blind leading the blind, but we are marginally educated and dangerously optimistic and grimly determined. And we love adverbs, which is not in our favor. We spent hours today slogging through technical issues alone, and there were some breathtaking moments, like the one in which I was certain we had managed to delete Wordtabulous. Note: when I am panicking but trying very hard not to display my panic, due to my superstitious belief that revealing panic will seal my doom, my voice becomes thin and high. Also I kick out a lot of heat. I may have actually burned the inside of my skin. I tell you this so you will recognize the symptoms in case we are together when I succumb to stealth hysteria.  Chocolate helps, as does finding out my blog is fine. See? Still here.


We took a driving trip to Yellowstone this summer, which means we crossed Minnesota, North Dakota and most of Montana. It was more beautiful than I had expected. The flooding Missouri River was alarming, the North Dakota Badlands were amazing and the Montana landscapes were breathtaking, too. At one point after we’d entered Montana, I noted that the horizon ahead of us was marked by jagged rock formations. I looked around and realized the the interstate bisected a large circular area completely ringed by tooth-like rock monoliths. Then I thought, what if we were inside the mouth of giant predatory geographic structure that would snap shut upon us like a stone-and-earth Venus Flytrap? That’s what I think about on long trips. What do you think about?

365?! Plus, Hollywood University part 2

My sister Kerin suggested that I write a daily blog for a year, and rather than be incredibly flattered that she would even think such a thing would be desirable I said something like, “You are so demanding!” But it is flattering. I was worried that I would wear out readers by posting even twice a week. It is also an interesting challenge. I have been fond of saying that one sure way for me to give up a good and wholesome activity is to commit to making it part of my life. I buy vitamins but I don’t take them. I exercise, but refuse to put it on my calendar. I clean my entire house, then let it become knee-deep in projects, junk mail, and laundry in all stages before cleaning again rather than apply regular maintenance to keep the clutter to a manageable level. Daily writing has been a goal of mine numerous times and just as often has been abandoned. One of the louder voices in my head (what, you don’t have voices in your head? Weird.) absolutely jeers at me whenever I sit down for a daily writing session. It is off-putting so I stop, because writing daily on my own is just a deal I make with myself. If I break that deal, who cares?. But the idea of committing to writing to you daily puts a different spin on things. More like making a commitment to exercise with a friend which is then harder to cancel because she is expecting you to show up and suffer with her. Yeah, it is a lot like that. So, let’s do this thing! Yikes.  I kind of feel like we are going steady now, but this doesn’t mean you have to give up reading other blogs. If you are subscribing to this blog, you are getting updates every time I post. If you find daily is too much of me (and trust me, I get it–there are days when I feel I get too much of me,) you should be able to adjust your subscription to only notify you once a week if there is something new here to see. Thank you for joining me in this growth experience; I hope you and I both find value in it.

On another note, I am adding a new section to Hollywood University, and you are invited to check it out. (Click on Hollywood University at the top of this page.) For people who have already read the first part, the new section begins with the word Origins, and takes the reader back to where Darlington begins his story. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, tell a friend or two to check it out–and if you know an agent or publisher interested in multi-cultural memoirs, definitely tell them you are a fan and how to find me!

I Bet I Can

I peeled my dining room ceiling like a carrot today. The popcorn finish has been bugging me forever in that room, which has a weird octagonal inset in the middle of the otherwise dropped ceiling. I believe the dropped ceiling is to accommodate the plumbing for the whirlpool tub in the master bath which is directly above. We never use the whirlpool jets because the last time I did, there was a leak in the pump and it rained in the dining room from at least ten places. This interior downpour was very exciting and messy, leaving brownish stains and bubbled paint on the ceiling and giving me cause to use every profane word I know as I tried to save the wooden table, the wooden floor, the computer, the business documents and everything else left laying around. I turned off the whirlpool jets almost immediately, but it took thirty minutes for the storm to diminish to a sprinkle. It took twenty-four more hours to get rid of the nervous tic beneath my right eye.

That was at least six weeks ago, and as I said, the popcorn had been bugging me for much longer than that, but I didn’t do anything about it. Why? I wasn’t sure I could. I thought maybe there was a right way to do it, that I needed a professional with knowledge and skill and maybe some useful products. I didn’t know any professional popcorn removers, so I hesitated and tried not to look at the brown circles and stripes on the gross bumpy ceiling, imagining instead a clean painted surface with maybe some white crown molding. Fancy. Then, today, a thunderstorm derailed our plans to work on our deck and so Mr. Wordtabulous and I started watching Yard Crashers and House Crashers on HGTV. We are highly susceptible to the DIY influence in our home and soon my husband was up and installing the new light fixtures I’d recently purchased in our upstairs bedrooms. (The old ones were deteriorating in a scary and oddly smelly way–I never knew corroded wire covering could smell like decaying mouse, but it does.) And I thought, I bet I could just scrape that popcorn ceiling off by myself. And I did.  I wore a filtered mask and goggles. I spritzed water on the popcorn then scraped it off with a ten inch taping knife (think wide spatula.) The first two-thirds was easy, the last third was a chore, but I did it. I made a huge mess, which was contained to the dining room because I had put plastic drop cloths over the doorways into the kitchen and living room. I was pretty impressed with myself until my husband looked in and all he said was, “You didn’t put down a drop cloth?” Men. That wasn’t even a question. Obviously I had not put down a drop cloth. Which was fine, because dragging a drop cloth loaded with four pounds of ceiling popcorn and dust through the rest of the house wasn’t going to work better than just cleaning up the mess where it was. I then cleaned up, and with a few touch-ups I think we are looking good. I’ve got a nice rustic look with some texture and some flat spots. Now it is time to start thinking about paint colors for the ceiling and the walls.

The point is that I’m moving forward on something I thought I needed help with and was a little afraid of. Self-doubt is a drain on energy, opportunity, fun and momentum. My mom says that when people used to say to my grandma that they didn’t think she could do something, she’d give them a bright and challenging look and say, “I bet I can.” I get messages from the world and my own brain all the time that say, “You can’t.” I have considered this carefully and I am positive that listening to this message has hurt me by limiting possibilities  many, many more times than it has helped me avoid stupid endeavors. It is (way past) time to stop always being a good little girl and to look fate, the odds, my own warped fears or whoever is standing in my way straight in the eye and say, “I bet I can.”

Insomnia Nibbles

Insomnia nibbles away the minutes of what should be my good night’s sleep. My head crowds with unwritten words, snatches of song, to-do lists and the recurrent montage of embarrassing moments past. Ghostly tickles play across my ribcage, my ankle, my neck. There is nothing there when I brush my hand against my skin. The tickle fades whether I scratch at it or not, but I can’t help myself—what if it is a bug? It isn’t a bug. Lying on my right side, my underwear bunches uncomfortably. Lying on my left gives rise to a breathless panicky feeling, what is that about? Lying on my back feels pointless. My husband is restless in the same bed but in a different universe. His sleeplessness is a dual problem: he needs to rest both in order to function and to be fit to live with. I get up so I don’t contribute to his issue. Minnesota’s fever has broken and the temp outside has dropped to 71 degrees. The moonlight makes the world bright but a little blurry; the houses are softened in a way I remember from the pre-Lasik days. I turn on my computer and am blinded by the screen. Maybe if I write my lists down I can turn off my brain for awhile: write a blog post, contact sources for next month’s article, respond to messages from the last blog post, check younger son’s summer reading, edit some short stories, look for a market for short stories, what is good enough to go out? Write something new, plan menus for the rest of the week, work out to counter all the recent indulgences, book a flight to visit mom, force the kids to clean the xbox room.

This isn’t helping. I hear the creak of the bed upstairs as my husband struggles to find repose. When he rolls over in bed, it shifts violently, like a raft riding waves in a storm.

I am grateful this doesn’t happen more often. For me it is a rare lingering visit to the surreal grey zone between daytime normal and nighttime unconscious. For my friend Kelly, this would be a normal night. She would scoff at my wimpy loss of a few hours. Call me some night when you’ve had a solid week like that, she might say. Seriously, call me, I’ll be up. I won’t call her tonight, though. That would be rude, and I’d have to get up and find my phone. I’m just sleepless, not energetic.

The sky brightens to the east. When I think of the long dark winter nights, an edging toward dawn at 4:30 a.m. seems a profligate use of daylight. That’s nature for you. All bounteous overflowing abundance, then the backhand smack of privation and/or disaster. That sounds like a blog for another day. Which could be today, now that day is arriving…

Yep. I am going down the rabbit hole all right. It is time to let my laptop get some sleep at least. Thanks for keeping me company.

Update? Sure!

I was working on my article this morning and was really cracking away at nailing down some quotes from an interview when, for the third time in four days, everything dissolved on my screen. Microsoft Word faded away, icons on my desktop disappeared like the stars at dawn and then the desktop was replaced by a screen that informed me “Windows is configuring some updates (again) so whatever little unimportant thing you are working on is going to have to wait. And, honey, get me a cup of coffee while you’re just sitting around, okay?” I ignored the rude request for coffee and sat while it hummed, processed, shut down, started up, hummed and processed some more and finally returned me to my desktop, my icons, and my article which was, just like the last two times, completely saved and ready to go again. It was fine—annoying, but fine. But I worry. So I dug out my backup hard drive and hooked it up. I use this backup on both our family computer and my personal laptop, and when I use it on the family computer, it gets right to work, no problem, autorun everything. Whenever I plug it into my computer, I get a variety of conflicting options on the possibilities of how the backup could be run. It isn’t uncommon for me to have to have to trial and error my way through it all because it looks different every time, and then I have to give the devices a few minutes to get rolling to even know if what I tried was a winner so it is time-consuming which is NEVER frustrating at all. I got it running (yay!) and then found that there was an update for the backup hard drive that was waiting to be downloaded. Cripes, not again. I mean, yes, of course I’d love to download the update for the best possible security and performance. Download, unzip, water the plants, check, nothing is happening, click unzip again, agree to let the program change things on my hard drive, start install wizard, blindly agree to end-user license agreement (I sold my soul and all my children by blindly agreeing to iTunes EULAs years ago, what else have I got to lose?) start install (didn’t I already do that? No?) Huh, look at that. The backup ran while I was trying to download the update software. Now I can get back to…what was I doing again?